Last season, midmajor college basketball was arguably the hottest it's been in recent memory.
The best player in Division I was Dayton's Obi Toppin, the most exciting above-the-rim finisher other than Duke's Zion Williamson the country had seen in a long time.
Dayton, Gonzaga and San Diego State were fighting for No. 1 NCAA tournament seeds. The Zags and Flyers (Division I-best 20-game win streak) would likely have earned those seeds, while the Aztecs were probably a No. 2 seed — no slouch at all.
Imagining three midmajor conference programs in the Final Four wasn't so far-fetched in 2020. But those dreams were crushed before they started with the pandemic ending the season prematurely.
Fast forward to 2021. Gonzaga is No. 1 and even better this season. The star power for any other midmajor conference team isn't like it was a year ago — certainly, nothing on the Zags' level.
But it's not too early to talk about the midmajor story lines that are getting the most attention this season. Here are the five most intriguing ones right now:
Best Gonzaga team ever
Midseason All-America teams released this week almost looked like the Zags' starting lineup. All five starters could be the best players on most teams around the country. But Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs and Drew Timme could make a case for All-America first-team honors when it's all said and done. And the only team that appears capable of stopping the Zags from their first national title is No. 2 Baylor, also undefeated.
Mountain West depth
Colorado State coach Niko Medved, a St. Paul native, has a team making things interesting in the Mountain West after beating Boise State, Utah State and San Diego State. The Rams, who have Minnesota ties with Medved, assistant Dave Thorson (DeLaSalle) and star David Roddy (Breck), ended Boise State's 13-game win streak Wednesday behind Roddy's 27 points and 15 rebounds. Colorado State, Boise State and San Diego State are projected to make the NCAA tournament, which would be the most teams from a non-power conference, per ESPN.
Winthrop (16-0) and Drake (15-0) join Gonzaga and Baylor as the only undefeated teams left in Division I. Winthrop has 21 straight wins dating to last season. Drake improved to 6-0 in the Missouri Valley after escaping Missouri State 78-73 on the road Wednesday. The Bulldogs' hot start is even more impressive considering their top player last year, 7-footer Liam Robbins, transferred to play for the Gophers.
Post-Toppin Atlantic 10
Dayton beating St. Louis at home earlier this week would've been a good sign last season when the Flyers and Toppin were battling for a No. 1 seed. But that actually hurts the national perception of a different Atlantic 10 power this year. The Billikens, who had previously only lost to the Gophers on the road, were ranked No. 22 in the country. St. Bonaventure, Davidson, Richmond and VCU are all capable of making it tough for St. Louis to run away with the league title as well.
Houston back on top
The Cougars and coach Kelvin Sampson started the 2018-19 season 15-0 and ended up losing in the Sweet 16 to Kentucky after setting a program record with 33 wins. They're back as national contenders, ranked No. 6 after a 14-1 start, with the only loss to Tulsa by one point.